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View from the Bedroom Window – November 2014

November 3, 2014 View from the Bedroom Window

November 3, 2014 View from the Bedroom Window

The view from the bedroom window on November 3 shows that the grass is still lushly green. Makes us remember that lawn grass is a cool weather crop. The trees in the landscape are all bare, but a clump of hardy chrysanthemums is still holding on.

View from the bedroom window - our first snow

View from the bedroom window – our first snow November 14

We woke on November 14 to the first snow. I took a poll and one and half inches qualifies as a real snow fall. Animal tracks confirm it.

Ice on November 17

Ice on November 17

The snow melted some, but was replaced with freezing rain and ice.

November 28, 2014 after the snowstorm

November 28, 2014 after the snowstorm

Thanksgiving came late but because of recent mild weather we were all lulled into a false sense of security.  Snow warnings began the weekend before T-day, and did not shift. Tuesday night we planned to leave for Tyngsboro early in the morning instead of waiting. Snow began in the afternoon and kept up. Some of the family stayed home, leaving more Dessert Night for us hardy souls, but the snow stopped  during the night. Everyone made it to Thanksgiving dinner. On the morning  of the 28th we got word that Heath had gotten 17 inches of snow and lost power. We loaded up the car double quick and raced home – but all was well! Winter is here. As expected.

Only one more snowy month in the year, and I’ll review the movement of sun, rain, wind  and snow for all of 2014. This was my one- year project to keep track of the seasons. 2015 will be different. No day is exactly the same, and certainly no season.

The Roses at the End of the Road – on Sale

The Roses at the End of the Road

The Roses at the End of the Road

The Roses at the End of the Road is a collection of essays written about our life at the End of the Road. We found our way to Heath in 1979 and located a tumbledown farmhouse at the end of a town road. My husband checked that fact many times. What people think is our driveway is nearly a quarter mile of town road, plowed and maintained by the town. After the big snowstorm in 1982 when the town plow, and the town bucket loader broke down trying to remove the drifted snow off the road so that we could leave the hill, we planted a snowbreak. I figure we and the town are about even on this one. No more broken machinery. Other adventures include tales of neighbors, our daughter’s wedding, the night lightning struck – and what we learned about roses and gardens during our two years in Beijing.

I began the commonweeder blog in December seven years ago. Now, during the month of December I sell The Roses at the End of the Road for only $12 with free shipping. for full ordering information click here. If you can’t wait to read the book it is also available as a Kindle version on Amazon.com for $3.95. This is a great gift for rose lovers, and those who enjoy tales of living in a small town.

Cellars and Cave Tour with the Heath Agricultural Society

Sheila Litchfield in the Dell

The Heath Agricultural Society gave us all a chance to  go exploring the cellars and caves of our neighbors  this past Saturday. Root cellars, cider cellars and a cheese cave. Who could resist this opportunity? Over 50 people signed up for this tour, many of them from towns beyond Heath. Even Springfield! I took one group around beginning with Sheila Litchfield who first explained the basics of cheesemaking. Chemistry. Bacteria. Sheila is a nurse so she knows all about bacteria. When Sheila isn’t milking her three goats to make cheese, serving as Rowe’s town nurse, and serving as a member of Heath’s selectboard, she spends ‘her spare’ time canning the produce from the large Litchfield garden. Oh, and she also gives cheesemaking workshops!

Cheese Cave

Sheila built her cheese cave in the cellar. Here, with carefully monitored temperature and humidity, she stores cheese that needs aging.  She explained that she can only have one kind of cheese in this small cave, because the different cheese bacterias will infect each other, to the benefit of neither.

Litchfield Root storage

Our group got a bonus! Sheila showed us how she stores root vegetables, in crocks, on the bulkhead stairs. Not too much left at this time of year.

Andrew at Benson Place Blueberry Farm

Then it was off to the Benson Place Blueberry Farm, where noted artist Robert Strong Woodward  often painted, and where  I often took young grandsons to pick their own low bush blueberries. Andrew and his family have been farming here for three years. When the basement was given a cement floor in the 1960’s a corner space was left unpaved, in expectation of a root cellar. Andrew finally finished the root cellar which now has two cement foundation walls, and two walls built of rigid silvery insulation panels, extra fiberglass insulation and heavy weight black plastic. His root cellar has a window which makes it possible, with the help of flexible ductwork, to bring extra air circulation. At this point Andrew says they buy bulk vegetables from farms like Atlas Farm to store. They also use the root cellar for other foods like yogurt and meat when the refrigerator is too full.

 

Draxler root cellar

Andy and Sue Draxler could not put their root cellar in the cellar because their furnace made that space too warm. They poured a cement floor in their large garage/workshop, but left one corner unpaved to provide the necessary moisture for their root cellar. While Andrew’s root cellar is a little room with a window, the Draxlers built what is essentially a large closet. It is divided in two, with the intention of providing dry cold storage on one side, and moist cold storage on the other.  That has not worked out as they expected, and both sides are quite moist. Sue Draxler explained are working on a fix  for that. They do have their potatoes on one side and apples on the other. These two should never be stored together because the apples produce ethylene gas as they ripen, and this will cause the potatoes to sprout more quickly. Like, Andrew, the Draxlers have very little left in their root cellar at this time of the year.  Sheila, Andrew and Sue all acknowledged that they had some produce loss because of the extremely cold temperatures for an extended period this year, made it impossible to keep root cellar temperatures above 32 degrees. Generally speaking root cellars should be keep between 40 and 55 degrees.

Bob Bourke and his cider press

After root cellars, we went off to explore cider cellars.  Hard cider, that is. Bob Bourke took everyone down to  his cellar to show his equipment  and fermenting carboys of cider. Then we all went up to the porch to see his cider press. Bob  bought his house and property about five or six years ago and was happy that it came with a cider orchard. He has 45 trees of various apple cultivars like Golden Russets, Baldwins, Northern Spy, Gravensteins, Jonathans and others. Good, complex ciders depend on a flavorful mix of apples.  Making cider also depends on controlling the yeasts, which means cleanliness and isolation in air-locked barrels and carboys. Bob explained that it is not really difficult to make cider, but cleanliness is vital. It is also very  timeconsuming when it is time to sterilize the bottles, fill and cap them.  He gave out samples to our thirsty crew.

Doug Mason in his cider cellar

Doug Mason gets most of his apples from Bob. They  do a lot of work – and tasting – together. He has some additional equipment that we hadn’t seen at Bob’s. To cut down on the time required for washing and sterilizing bottles, he has bought several stainless steel kegs, like those that beer  comes in. Much easier to clean a keg than  bottles for an equal amount of beer. He also has a bottling and capping gadget that, with a two man crew, makes this operation fairly quick. He also gave out samples. Warming!  And very nice. This cider cellar is about 50 degrees. Chilly. Doug ferments his cider in the barrel for  about a year or so, then bottles it, and keeps it for another year. Bob’s cellar is warmer, and it takes the cider longer to mature in Doug’s colder cellar. So much to learn.

Lunch!

Back at the Community Hall we could warm up. Hours spent talking about food and drink prepared us for a fabulous lunch, chilis, soups, breads, pies and cider! All prepared for tour participants by members of the Heath Agricultural Society. That is Justin Lively, Society President, in the center rear of the photo. Lots of enthusiastic conversations! The big question? What other kinds of tours can we have in Heath? What kinds of tours might other towns create?

Halloween in Heath

Welcome to Heath Halloween

Because we are such a rural, spread-out town children can’t easily go trick or treating  from house to house. A Tailgate Halloween in the town center was planned, but the rain called for an instant revision. The community hall was quickly turned into Trick or Treat Central and the youngest children, baby pumpkins and kittens, arrived first, followed later by the older kids who had a map of all the houses in town where the Trick or Treat light was on.

Fortune-telling

Even the witches needed to have their fortune told before going on to the main event. Candy!  Also apple cider and donuts.

Candy – all you can carry

This is the only night when the grown-ups urge children to take more candy. Go on. You can have another handful!

Gypsy storyteller

For some there were scary stories! Bats in the library, terrified bunnies, scared siblings. Max and Ruby – what are you doing?

Ghouls and witches

All the ghouls, witches, kittens, spiders, frogs, French knights, gorillas, elephants, Princess brides, and fishermen of all ages in town turned out for a sweetly ghastly celebration.

Walking in Our Woods with the Mass Audubon Society

 

A sunny spot in the woods – overstory and understory, no midstory

I’ve always known we have many different types of bird habitat here at the End of the Road. We have fields that surround our house and the garden. We have a wetland and a pond. Mostly we have woods, about 35 or so acres, surrounding the house, fields, and wetlands.

I have walked in our woods. I have taken grandchildren up the lane, part of the old road to Rowe that was discontinued decades ago. The tree-lined lane runs between two fields and then into the woods. The grandchildren and I would clear what’s left of the road of sticks, and tree seedlings. We’d look at bugs under rotting felled trees and under stones. We talk and enjoy the shade, or complain about the mosquitoes and decide it was time to go home

Sometimes we’d cross the field and go into the western woods and down to the stream that marks the border of our land. I never spent much time thinking about the different character of the woods. They were just ‘the woods.’

My view of our woods changed last Monday when I went through the woods with Stu Watson from the Mass Audubon Society and three neighbors who are very knowledgeable about birds. Watson was there to walk through our fields and woods and tell us how we could make these different habitats more bird friendly. He showed me how to look at my woods with new eyes.

First we walked across the field and learned that in order to protect birds like woodcock and ruffed grouse who nest there, we should not give those fields their annual mowing until the very end of July or beginning of August. Other birds like whippoorwills and tree sparrows like this habitat.

My husband Henry pointed out that some of our white pines had started to encroach on the field. Watson explained that was a good thing. Transitions are important for birds. A field should not stop suddenly at the edge of a woodland. There should be some shrubby transition. There will come a time when that transition will turn into woods, so it needs to be monitored and managed. I never knew that Mass Audubon Society knew so much about trees, in addition to birds.

Watson also suggested that areas around old apple trees in the field be cleared to make the soft mast (fallen fruit) more available to the birds and other wildlife.

From the field we stepped into a stand of white pine. The ground was covered with pine needles and there was very little undergrowth. This is not ideal. Taking down a few trees would allow more sun to enter, and then allow pine regeneration. Birds would welcome the new growth.

Over-, mid-, and understory in the woods

The ideal is to have tall overstory trees, then have a midstory of trees and shrubs between 5-30 feet, and then an understory of ferns, and other low growing plants and groundcovers. This is exactly the structure we gardeners copy when we plant a mixed border of small trees, shrubs and  underplanted with flowers or groundcovers.

Wolf Tree

We moved through the pine woods which rather abruptly changed into a hardwood stand. In the transition area there was pine regeneration because there was more sun, and there were ferns and maple seedlings. I even learned a new maple variety, striped maple, which has large three lobed leaves. This was a much better area for birds because it provided more protective cover and more forage. It also provided several wolf trees, enormous old dead trees that provide a bug smorgasbord for bug eaters, and cavities for birds and other small wildlife to live in. I was happy to see tiny oak seedlings. I don’t know how acorns got into our woods, but oaks support over 500  wildlife species. I want oak trees.

Oak seedling

Walking was more difficult in this area, but Watson repeated several times. “Bad walking means good habitat.”

The third stand was mixed white pine and hardwoods like white ash, black cherry, red maple, and white birch. This section had been logged but there was a well developed midstory. There was very little understory growth, but there was lots of debris on the ground caused by storm damage. Again, thinning needs to be done to allow more sun and thus encourage regeneration.

Watson was very pleased with our various habitats, and the good health of our woods. He gave us his suggestions for improving the habitat. When we re-read our forest management plan prepared by our forester Scott Sylvester with new eyes, we realized that he had anticipated all of Watson’s suggestions ten years ago.

We expected Stu from the Mass Audubon Society to be knowledgeable about birds but then we found out that Scott Sylvester, who is passionate about birds, is one of the organizers of this collaboration between the Mass Audubon Society, the Mass Department of Conservation and Recreation, and the Franklin Land Trust, a collaboration that mirrors those in Vermont and New Hampshire. The goal is to keep forest bird habitat intact. By the way, it will also make forest land productive for the owner, allowing for selective cutting.

Northern New England is a ‘breeding bird factory” Watson said. Seventy to 90 species of birds nest and breed in this area, and this habitat is crucial to “keeping common birds common.”

This is a pilot program. We were glad to learn about it when it was launched on Mother’s Day with a walk for interested people through the Betty Maitland Memorial Forest in Heath. The program will help woodland owners to look at their property in a way that is not only beneficial to them, but to beautiful birds as well.

For more information about this new Mass Audubon Society program email Stu Watson at swatson@massaudubon.org or Matt Kamm at mkamm@massaudubon.org.

Between the Rows   June 15, 2013

Don’t forget, you still have time to win a free copy of my book, The Roses at the End of the Road. Leave a comment here by midnight Sunday, June 23 and I’ll announce the winner on Monday. You can also  buy copies on sale, or a Kindle edition. All info is here.

 

Sunny Saturday – On the Road in Heath

Abandoned beaver dam

After more t han three inches of rain came sunny Saturday and the pleasure of Saturday morning rounds. Past the abandoned beaver dam and off to the Heath Free Public Library. This is the prettiest abandoned beaver dam in Heath. We are not totally sure whether beavers have left our beaver pond or not.

Golden tree

After the library onto the paved road and the Town Transfer Station.

Stream on Route 8A

After the Transfer Station it was down 8A and off to Avery’s General Store.

Holland Dam in the Dell

The newly repaired dam gate has made the dam look like its old self.

 

Ice and Snow and Fog – January

Cottage Ornee

The view from my bedroom window on January 27, 2012.

White Birch and Green Conifers

Ice is heavy.

Iced branches

And to think I was planning to collect forsythia branches to force today.

Yellow Birch

View from the Welcoming Platform. I have photographed this tree in every season and every weather. It is always beautiful.

Snowy stream 1-25-12

Temperatures hover at 32 degrees and the stream keeps flowing.

Proof That Heath Loves Farms

Heath - A Right to Farm Community Roadside Sign

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Snowy Sunday Walk at the End of the Road

Rabbit tracks

I woke at dawn and looked out the window to see three rabbits frolicking on the nowy lawn. Hardy rabbits. The temperature was 8 degrees. They were no where in sight when the sun was fully up.

White birch in winter

When the sun had gotten a little higher and the temperature had reached 16 degrees my husband and I decided to take a walk down the road. We passed our neighbor’s house with this beautiful tree that I have always admired.

Another neighbor has equipment in front of his house. I have always admired his way with a motor. Magic hands.

Corner of Rowe Road and Knott Road

We strolled all the way down to the end – or more accurately the beginning of Knott Road. It is just under one quarter mile from our house, and not much of a road.

Snowy roadside

On our way back up the hill, I stopped to admire the snowdrift next to a culvert. There is often water trickling down here, but not today. It is cold and silent.

Elm tree stump

Nearly home to the end of the road. The road turns here and leads us to the door. For many years we enjoyed the company of a magnificent elm. It finally succumbed to disease and had to be cut down. The stump is left, and although it is hard to see it has a sprout growing from the stump.

Country Roads – and Home

And home again.

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